Summary: Push aside the spirit of Babel, and declare your dependence upon the Lord
I don’t know if you realize it or not, but every one in this room is part of a minority group. Less than 10% of the people in the world speak English. Estimates are that just under 500 million people on planet earth are English speakers, while over twice that many speak Mandarin Chinese. There are many, many languages on the planet today. Over 200 different languages are spoken and there are also another couple of thousand dialects that people use. It is interesting that many linguists, people who study languages, have finally decided that the Bible has been right all along. They agree that there was initially only one human language. So, how did we get from one to 2000? Linguists have a variety of explanations, but I’m convinced the best and true answer for the diversity of language is found in Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel. This is our text today, Genesis 11:1-9. This account not only tells us why some folks speak English, while others speak Finnish, and others speak Swahili, but it also has a very important lesson for us. Let’s pray the Lord would again use His Word to speak to our minds and hearts.
Let’s look at the story of Babel. The events recorded in Genesis 11 occur between the times of Noah and Abraham. It is impossible to get precise dates from the Genesis genealogies, but Babel may be thousands of years after Noah. Genesis 11:2 As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. Trouble is around the corner. Horace Greeley’s grandfather once told him, "Head west, young man, head west." That is almost Biblical because, in Genesis anyway, when-ever someone heads east, there is trouble. Now, this doesn’t mean you should not go to Virginia this week, but it is interesting. When Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, they move east of Eden. When Cain left the presence of the Lord, he went east to Nod. In Chapter 13, Lot will settle east of Sodom. Here in Genesis 11, the people head east and end up in the plain of Shinar, which is in modern Iraq. We are not going to get into speculations about Biblical prophecy today, but it is worth noting that Babel and Babylon, the focal points of opposition to God both in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation, are located in Iraq. That is why some folks believe that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, is the antichrist the Bible says will rise to power. I guess we will wait and see about that one.
When the people arrive in their new home, they start a building project. 11:4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." Now, maybe that doesn’t seem like a terrible thing to do. But it is. The biggest problem is their motive for building. As we saw in the story of Cain and Abel a couple of weeks ago, motives do matter to God. Why we do something is just as important as what we do. What was wrong with their motives? They were trying to make a name for themselves. They were looking for fame. And as they do this, the people were totally ignoring God. At Babel, they declared their independence from the Lord. "We can take care of ourselves. We don’t need God." Since they forgot about God as they made their plans, it is no surprise that the Lord’s plans are a bit different from theirs. God’s response is in 11:6-9 The Lord said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel -- because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11 is about conflicting plans. The people want to make a name for themselves. They want to accomplish something of which they can be proud. But God has another plan. Oh, yes, He lets them make a name for them-selves: "Babel." Throughout history it will be a name synonymous with failure. Rather than becoming famous, these people become infamous. The people built a tower in order to 11:4b "...make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." That is their goal. But the exact opposite occurs. 11:9b From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.